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GE's Billion-Dollar Bet on Big Data | BusinessWeek

The Steinmetz barn housed GE's first laboratory

General Electric’s (GE)first research laboratory was housed in a barn in upstate New York; its newest is going up in Silicon Valley. In a vivid illustration of how the locus of U.S. innovation has shifted from the East to the West Coast, GE is pouring $1 billion into a facility in San Ramon, Calif., that will be staffed with as many as 400 people.

San Ramon will be home to the new Global Software Center

New hires for the Global Software Center, which is set to open in June, are coming from Oracle (ORCL), SAP (SAP), andSymantec (SYMC). Bill Ruh, the vice president running the venture, was lured away from Cisco Systems (CSCO) last year. The tech industry veteran says persuading developers to forgo windfalls from initial public offerings to come work at an industrial stalwart is not as difficult as one might think. “They want to be in on the Next Big Thing,” he says.

The big thing Ruh is referring to is called “big data,” the fast-growing market for information technology systems that can sift through massive amounts of data to help companies make better decisions. Just as information on millions of Facebook users is prized by advertisers, the details companies amass from their operations can be used to cut costs and boost profits. Norfolk Southern (NSC), which buys diesel locomotives from the Fairfield (Conn.) company, uses customized software to monitor rail traffic, reducing congestion and allowing trains to move at higher speeds. The fourth-largest U.S. railroad estimates that making trains run an average of 1 mile per hour faster will save more than $200 million.

The potential for such technologies is so huge that ...

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